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Fancy a holiday... in North Korea? Chatham man Gareth Johnson can make it happen

By Lizzie Massey

He’s the man who takes you where your mother would rather you steer clear of – and the latest destination is North Korea.

Imagine: a relaxing holiday, lying on the beach, surfing and playing volleyball, in the world’s most militarised society.

Just last week North Korea deployed a new generation of high-speed, radar-evading warships and there is ongoing work on nuclear weaponry.

Gareth Johnson organises holidays to dangerous places
Gareth Johnson organises holidays to dangerous places

Meanwhile, in Lordswood, Gareth Johnson wants to show people a different side to the country. One that is friendly, tolerant and relaxed.

The 34-year-old set up Young Pioneer Tours in 2008 after working as an English teacher in China and itching to explore new lands. He now employs 18 members of staff and has Chinese and New Zealand business partners.

The firm specialises solely in the unusual and the dangerous - places you are not going to get with your local Thomas Cook. They include Iran, Cuba, Antarctica and the latest venture, North Korea. It is the first company to offer budget tours to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Mr Johnson, of McKenzie Road, said: “The world is shrinking for travellers while I’m still taking people to places unknown, and capturing that bit of adventure.

“A lot of people would say ‘I wouldn’t go to North Korea if you paid me’. It’s certainly a niche market but throughout the world there are a lot of us interested.

“People can say ‘don’t go it’s dangerous’, but there are streets in London you can’t walk down, a lot of these places are safer than home.”

Billboards in support of North Korea's ruling family
Billboards in support of North Korea's ruling family
Children on a rowing lake. Picture: Young Pioneer Tours.
Children on a rowing lake. Picture: Young Pioneer Tours.

This is the first year Mr Johnson has put on a beach holiday to the country, but people will also get the chance to see monuments and towns, and visit the demilitarised zone which marks the boundary between North and South Korea.

“North Korea is completely misrepresented. The people are painted to be strange but what I find, as in any country I go to, is that people are people. There’s bar tenders and waitresses; they eat, sleep, marry; have fears and laugh.

“There are certain parts of the country which are very strange for British people with liberal values, but this is about separating the myths from the facts.”

A beach in North Korea. Picture: Young Pioneer Tours.
A beach in North Korea. Picture: Young Pioneer Tours.
The Juche Tower, a monument in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Picture: Young Pioneer Tours.
The Juche Tower, a monument in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Picture: Young Pioneer Tours.

A lot of money and care is spent on securing the safety of travellers, and tours have been cancelled in the past during rife political situations.

He said: “We have a very good relationship with the British Embassy and we take direction from them. This is a holiday of guided tours, you can’t just nip out and go clubbing, but you are interacting with local people and you get a feel true feel for the culture.”


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